Grant Adjudication Process for UBC Grad Students

Issues, concerns, and anxieties around grant adjudication process abound, as evidenced in a previous post on this blog. Awards and competitions are inherently stressful.  Applicants, often working with limited understanding of the various processes going on behind the scenes, often assume their failure to gain a grant is more a failure of the process then of their own application.  That might be partial true, but rarely in the manner that applicants think. It is hard to accept that a near perfect application just doesn’t get funded.  But that’s the issue with competitive based funding mechanisms.  Ideally funding would be need based and equitable in distribution.  All learning community citizens would receive the funding that they need to be successful learners.  While that is an end goal that I share, I am enough of a realist to accept that for the moment our system is a competitive normative one.  It is a system in which the ideals of ‘excellence’ are defined by mandated failure of the majority.  For those who would like an informed critique of excellence and the corporatist no-liberal trajectory of the contemporary university look here.

Early May 2014 the Faculty of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies at UBC hosted a workshop on grant and fellowship adjudication processes for faculty advisers.  They have shared their presentation and have given permission to share this with graduate students.  I’ve attached it here: UBC Adjudication Process Slides. The presentation is quite informative in laying out the procedures and the criteria for awards.  One of the key items here is that students should note that there are a limited number of awards offered – far fewer than the number of applicants.  Thus ‘success’ is necessarily restricted and designed to engender individualistic behaviours within applicant groups.

These types of competitive processes undermine social solidarity and, in my opinion, do nothing to engender high quality reserach.  What they do is train and inculcate participation into the high culture of competitive capitalism. Bertell Ollman, in How to Take and Exam and Remake the World, said it best when he described university and college exams as tools to teach working class compliance.  He offered tips to deal with both surviving the testing process AND changing the world.  Key to the process was figuring out how to navigate college classrooms and simultaneously to understand what lies behind the industrialized competitive classroom.

Competition can be healthy.  In sports like running a competitive spirit drives individuals forward through the seeking and setting of personal goals.  The measure of success is a matrix between absolute performance (time over distance) and age category. Academic competition for graduate awards and fellowships, however, has been unnaturally transformed into a poor facsimile of free market capitalism.  Rewards are restricted and deliberately constrained, all ‘competitors’ are encouraged to compete against each other within a mythos of a meritocratic level playing field.  Mentors blithely give advice on how best to succeed while nearly always turning a blind eye to the fact that they are ultimately encouraging failure. Departmental and Faculty experts give presentations in which the message seems to be that everyone can be a success, everyone will be excellent:  all one need do is follow the advice and work hard.

In a society based upon equity and social justice each learner would have the needs and supports to meet their personal bests – the point of comparison would be their own last success, not whether or not they grabbed one of the paltry prizes dangled like carrots.  This is a world that still awaits us.  We can achieve it.





Bringing 2013-14 class to a close.

Eight months ago we gathered for our first class.  The opening topic was decolonizing anthropology.  Today, our last day of this course, we have returned to this topic via a book that exhorts us to reverse the anthropological gaze.  This is fitting.  History, for that is what we are studying, is constructed, debated, and revised generation by generation.  There are empirical traces left for us to find – these are the readings, especially in our first term.  What becomes more interesting, I think, are the narratives that spin these facts into the whole cloth of the anthropological tradition.

Let’s review the original learning objectives that I set:

1.   develop your understanding of  anthropology in terms of the people, schools, and theoretical models that have been instrumental in shaping the canonical texts.

2.   locate the historical development of anthropology as a discipline within the context of wider historical processes, such late 19th century colonial expansion and industrial development, nation building in the Americas, post-world war II decolonisation, and late 20th century socio-economic transformations. 

3.   evaluate the mechanisms by which marginal voices have been excluded from the mainstream of the discipline.

From our first term we explored the following topics

·      Anthropology and Colonialism

·      Creating the ‘Field’ & the ‘Methods’ of Anthropology (Cushing, Barbeau and Malinowski).

·      Creating the ‘Discipline’

o    I: Franz Boas & Americanist Anthropology   

o   II: The British School (Structure & Function)

o   III: The French Ethnographic Tradition

o   Is there a Canadian Anthropology?

·      Structure, Order, and Exchange (Durkheim)

·      Anthropology and Marx’s Legacy

o   (I): Labour, Production, and Estrangement

o   (II): Power and Ideology

·      Three transformative ideas:

o   Interpretive Anthropology: Geertz.

o   Engaging with Gender: Second Wave Feminism & Anthropology

o   Engaging with History: Political Economies

By beginning with the twinned concepts of Anthropology and Colonialism our discussion was situated within a well-recognized trope.  We could have taken a more historical, rather than political,  approach.  We could have started with Herodotus, for example, the Greek historian and ethnographer of  the 5th century BC and then traced our way forward tracking the traces of European civilization as it’s members cogitated upon the strange people met.  But we didn’t.

I began with the idea of colonialism as anthropology in order to unsettle our comfortable ideas of the discipline of one neutrally located within simple fields of inquiry: content, method, practice.  Do we remember our first fieldtrip?  We walked over to be hind the museum of anthropology, to view the replica Haida village as though we were coming a shore on a vessel.  To get there, we had to pass over the vestigial structures of a World War Two gun emplacement.  Then we had to scramble around a large event tent.  Finally, after pushing through the overgrown weeds, we were able to stand as though in a canoe or on a merchant sailing ship and look ashore to the village. 

This is the view of the stranger, the visitor, the newcomer.  This is the vantage point that anthropology has taken throughout most of it’s academic life – to cast a gaze over top of other people, to play with use with foreign theories, to become experts upon us.  But, this is not what anthropology has to be.

In our second term we have explored a set of subjects that should, if we reflect upon them, help us turn our gaze around. 

·      Turning into/to Text and Considering Film

o   Anthropology at Home

o   Affect, Autobiography, and Autoethnography

o   Ecology & Poetics

o   Collaborative Anthropologies

·      Reversing the Gaze

Here we have explored a series of recent ethnographies (written over the course of the past two decades or more).  These ethnographies offer us examples of approach.  Incidentally, they also show us a wide range of the topics anthropologists work on.  Let’s review the books:

·      We eat the mines and the mines eat us, June Nash

·      The devil and commodity fetishism, Michael Tausig

·      In my father’s study, Ben Orlove

·      Stranger in the village of the sick, Paul Stoller

·      Abalone Tales, Les Fields

·      More than a labour of love, Meg Luxton

·      Between history and tomorrow, Gerald Sider

·      Ordinary affects, Kathleen Stewart

·      Lines in the water, Ben Orlove

·      Reversing the gaze, Mewenda Ntarangwi


This is quite the range of books we have travelled from South America through North America and Africa.  In our films we visited France and Africa again.   Today we will end the course back again near our start.  So it should be.  You are learning the history of your chosen discipline.  You are finding the walls and boundaries to this particular intellectual tradition.  While we might  “make our own history, we do not make it just as we please; we do not make it under circumstances chosen by ourselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”